Volant Pine

Captain Chris Miller's experiences on rotation with Bravo Squadron

The Mission : RAF Mildenhall : Tour the AOR : Write Me

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The history of the small market town of Mildenhall can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times although nothing remains of the original settlement except for a large cemetery just outside the limits of the present town. The Domesday survey of 1086 recorded that the town was well established with a church, a mill and a total of sixty-four families, not to mention a flock of a thousand sheep. The whole of the manor of Mildenhall belonged to the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds and the abbot had total control over the area, including the right to hang criminals in the market-place. On a less macabre note, a weekly market on Fridays has been held regularly since 1412 when a royal charter for this was first granted.
In 1931, Mildenhall was selected to be the home of the first of the Royal Air Force's new bomber bases. The base was officially opened in 1934, just after the famous Great Air Race from Mildenhall to Melbourne, Australia on 20 October 1934. The race attracted enormous international interest and Mildenhall was at last in the limelight. Crowds came to see famous fliers and there were traffic jams for miles around. The race was won by a de Havilland Comet, flown by C.W.A. Scott and T. Campbell Black, who reached Australia in less than seventy-two hours, an incredible feat for those days. RAF Mildenhall was an important British bomber base during the Second World War, and since 1950 has been home to the United States Air Force. Crowds in the hundreds of thousands now attend the annual 2-day air fetes.
Our first stop at Mildenhall (after inprocessing the squadron, of course) was the billeting office. The rotation crews were assigned buildings rather than rooms. Then each squadron appointed a "lodging officer" to work out the room assignments and the swap-out with the departing unit. The enlisted quarters were in two buildings on the BX side of the base, next to the chow hall. The officers had two buildings tucked between the O'Club and family housing. The two buildings were called "the Zoo" and "the Morgue". The rule was that the Zoo was the party building. Don't ask for a room there if you want to get any sleep or studying done. The Morgue was the "quiet" building. We shared both buildings with tanker and recon crews from the SR-71 detachment.
Billeting Office
The Zoo also harbored a small secret. The 41st TAS had a notional lieutenant assigned to the squadron - Lt Pumpaloaf. Lt Pumpaloaf was always assigned to the first room on the first floor parking lot side of the Zoo. Since Lt Pumpaloaf did not in fact exist, this ensured that this room remained vacant for the duration of the rotation. The "morale officer" was then responsible for stocking the alcohol and mixers, ensuring funds were available, restricting access, and otherwise providing general maintenance and upkeep of the room. This "Bravo Bar" would then open for business most nights when the Officer and NCO clubs shut down. In order to be admitted, you either had to be a member of the Bravo Squadron team, or you had to be female. If you were female, a British accent was considered "extra points".
Bird's Eye View

The base commander was very clear on the rules of conduct that had to be enforced in the Bravo Bar if we wanted him to continue to look the other way. Any noise complaints from the housing area would generate a "shut down". Any stumbling drunks or people getting sick outside would generate a "shut down". Any complaints from the local populace about "Yanks" taking advantage of local women would generate a "shut down". Shut downs would last anywhere from a week to the end of the rotation. Finally, money could never ever ever be exchanged for alcohol. The most common method of meeting this last requirement was for the Morale Officer to print up a bunch of cards that looked exactly like line badges, with numbers and everything. He would charge $10 to $15 a card (depending on the prices at the Class VI). The bartender would then punch out one number for each shot or each beer you ordered. Mixers were complimentary, civilian women drank free, and donations were always welcome. Needless to say, the Bravo Bar was notorious for some of the antics that went on there, and we got shut down often. Maybe I should write a book...

3rd Air Force Headquarters
RAF Mildenhall was home to 3rd Air Force, one of three numbered air forces with responsibility in the European theater. Although the C-130s of Bravo Squadron were assigned to the same base, our controlling NAF was still 21st out of McGuire AFB, NJ, through the 322nd Airlift Division at Ramstein. We often referred to 322nd as "Mother", since we talked to them constantly about changes and updates to our missions, and had to get permission from them to deviate for any reason.

Bob Hope Center
Another landmark at Mildenhall was the Bob Hope recreation center. Those of us in the military stationed overseas were very fond of the USO, and Bob Hope was the driving force behind their dedication to the troops. He was honored while he was still alive by having the rec center named after him, and we spent many wonderful hours making use of the facilities such as pool tables and video games. Next to the Rec Center was a pizza joint, run by AAFES. This place was a welcome diversion from the chow hall food without having to find a way into town or spend a lot of money.

Right next to the Morgue was an inn and tavern known as the Bird-in-Hand. This was a common hangout for rote folks since it was just a few yards walk from the billets, had cider, bitter, and lager-n-lime in abundance, had a dartboard, and was frequented by locals who liked visiting with American military. They also had a pretty decent selection of pub foods for a reasonable price. Pretty much any night of the week, a dozen or so of us would head over there "for a quick pint" and end up staying for several hours. The second floor had a number of rooms that were available for rent. It wasn't unusual for us to put up a couple of our people there during changeover, since the number of rooms and beds available to us on base was limited.
A little farther away, but still within walking distance, was the Smokehouse. This place was a little more upscale with a more sophisticated menu and a more aristocratic environment. The prices were correspondingly higher. But again, if you were looking for something different within walking distance of the base, this was where you went for steak and kidney pie, quail, Yorkshire pudding, etc. They used linen tablecloths and napkins, and had real silver utensils. The Smokehouse also had a few rooms available for rent, and was also sometimes used as overflow housing for the Bravo Squadron.

Operations on the flightlne were adventures. The main base was on one side of the airfield, along with base operations, weather, aerial port, etc. Bravo Squadron was on the other side of the runway. The only way to get from one side to the other was to drive the perimeter road. Prior to deploying, all squadron members had to get checked out in the "bread truck", followed by recertification of their Mildenhall flightline privileges. Driving the perimeter road in these 1960's vehicles was taking your life in your hands, between the shoddy brakes and steering, and the fact that the trucks were so top-heavy, every corner was an exercise in weight-and-balance to keep them from tipping over.

The herks were parked out on the old WWII hardstands. We had KC-135s, helicopters, F-15s, and every once in a while A-10s, F-16s, F-4s or British aircraft out there as well. The SR-71s were almost always in the hangar. Normally, we'd get a pushback out of the hardstand, although sometimes we would do it self-contained. There was only one way in and one way out of the hardstands, so ground control was very picky about making sure you followed their directions. Once airborne, the air traffic in Europe was horrendous. Crowded airways and a high volume of commercial jets made flow control a necessity. Basically, to fly GAT, you would file your flightplan including ETAs to major checkpoints along the route. You would be assigned a slot time for entering and exiting the airways. You would then back up that slot time to a controlled takeoff time, and pray that ground ops didn't prevent you from making it good. Refiling for a new slot time could take an hour or more.

Something we always had to be aware of was the "Purple Flights". These were aircraft carrying members of the British Royal Family on board, and travel was restricted in a lot of the airspace around their route of flight. Noting a Purple Flight in the NOTAMS, you could almost always count on at least an hour delay. One way around some of these delays was to file OAT, which consisted of airways specifically defined as "TACAN only" and limited to military flights. OAT airspace was minimal, but many times it was the fastest way out of England.

Something else that was fun, or at least that broke up the monotony, was interacting with the Belgian and the Dutch Air Forces. Since nearly all of our return flights to Mildenhall came in over the narrow part of the channel towards Dover, we were frequently passing through or near the special use airspace for the Dutch and Belgian military training. Many times we would get a call from ATC asking if the local fighters could run practice intercepts against us. This was always a welcome diversion for us, and was implicitly sanctioned by the Bravo leadership.

Generally speaking, the schedulers would do their best to get each crew a 3-day pass during the rotation period. The most common destinations were London, Edinborough, York, Brussels, and Calais. A few adventurous souls would try to make Ireland, Paris, or even Frankfurt... a couple of times resulting in non-judicial punishment when they failed to show up for a scheduled activity the next day. My first rote, I called up a girl I had been dating while living in Frankfurt, and talked her into taking 3 days of vacation from her GS job to fly up to meet me in London. Fourteen months later, she and I were married.

E-Mail Last updated on 24 May 2006 by Chris Miller Go Top

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